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Town and Country

This Frontier Needs Heroes crafts vintage folk in N.Y.

Jessica Lauretti, one half of the brother/sister folk group This Frontier Needs Heroes, sits next to me on a bench outside a coffee shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the band is based. I say, “I think a lot of people would expect a band with this kind of sound to come from somewhere other than a major metropolitan area.”

Lauretti gets pissed.

The band has an open sound that seems far from the congestion of the city. Lauretti’s brother Brad has a plaintive voice that takes the forefront over his acoustic guitar. She adds haunting, eerie vocal textures behind that act as a refrain for the lyrics—“hearing the ghosts,” she calls it. And together, they make sense of the old saying, “Music happens in the space between the notes.”

“People always say that [we don’t sound like we’re from New York], but I don’t understand it,” Lauretti says. “I mean, Bob Dylan was from New York City.”

“Well, he was from Minnesota,” I say, not helping the situation at all.

Yes, Lauretti says, annoyance creeping into her voice, but Dylan became famous in New York City, along with several other artists that came out of the Greenwich Village folk scene—a scene that has come to define all other folk scenes. “Woody Guthrie used to live in Brooklyn,” she adds.

Before I can stop myself, I say, “Yeah, but he was from somewhere else!” I mean, Guthrie was from Oklahoma. But that’s strike three, and it’s only Lauretti’s professionalism that keeps her from storming off, or dumping coffee on me, or both.

“So what? Do people say about people who play in San Francisco, ‘Oh, why do you play folk music because you live in San Francisco?’ That’s a major urban, metropolitan area, too,” Lauretti says. “There’s a huge folk scene that’s in NYC, and has always been, and will always be.”

Part of today’s New York amnesia can be attributed to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who, as the story goes, caught mono and retired to a Wisconsin cabin in the middle of winter to write and record the lo-fi For Emma, Forever Ago, an album that went viral in 2008, and received rabid enthusiasm from fans and critics alike. In 2012, Bon Iver won a Grammy for its self-titled album, and the rest, as you could say, is forgotten history.

Maybe more accurately, people come to New York from small towns, to write about where they came from and where they hope to be. It’s not uncommon: A young Hemingway expatriates to Paris then writes about Michigan. And maybe, it’s how This Frontier has continued to evolve as a band, most recently putting out 2011’s The Future, and releasing the single “2012” in December.

While Lauretti has been in Brooklyn for 10 years, after releasing 2009’s self-titled album, she and her brother hopped into a Honda and drove west. They played, by her estimate, “hundreds of shows, real D.I.Y. touring.” They played house parties and coffee shops. Hell, they’d play your birthday party if you made it worth their while.

Eventually the constant touring became too much. “I need to stay in Brooklyn and have a house again, have a life,” Lauretti laughs. “It’s better for me to be here.” But Brad continues to live a nomadic life between Connecticut, where they grew up, South Carolina and California, rambling and writing, then phoning it all back to Lauretti, like a young Guthrie. It’s throughout America where This Frontier’s music is written, but it’s in Brooklyn where their music is made.

“Have you ever lived in New York City before?” Lauretti asks me. I say I haven’t.

“It’s wild, living here,” Lauretti says. “Every second of every day is pretty much complete and total insanity—in the best way—and that is very energizing.

“There’s a reason Bob Dylan left Minnesota. New York City is way fucking cooler.”

This Frontier Needs Heroes plays at 9 p.m., Monday, April 2, at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $8. For more information, call 429-6994.

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